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August 21, 2009

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This Day in Baseball History: August 21st, 1932

August 21, 2009
Mike Hampton?

On August 21, 1932:

Wes Ferrell wins his 20th game of the season.

After only receiving brief bits of playing time in 1927 and 1928 as a 19 and 20-year old, Wes Ferrell finally got his chance in 1929. He made it count by going 21-10 with a 3.60 ERA even though he actually walked more people than he struck out (.92 K/BB). Ferrell followed that up with an even better 1930 season in which he won a career-high 25 games alongside a 3.31 ERA and bringing that K/BB ratio up to 1.35. A season later, he took a step back as his ERA went up a half point and his K/BB ratio went below 1 again (.95), but he was still able to win 22 games and lead the league with 27 complete games. Added in was a no-hitter against the St. Louis Browns.

In 1932, Ferrell accomplished something that no other pitcher had or has done in the 20th or 21st century. He won 20+ games for the 4th consecutive season to begin his career, and he won his 20th on today’s date. He wound up winning 23 games, and he barely had more strikeouts than walks (105 to 104). Unfortunately, Ferrell’s season became about more than his win totals. The 24-year old had a short temper, and he was fined and suspended a few times for refusing to leave a game and leaving a game before the manager took him out. After a particularly bad performance, he punched himself so hard in the jaw that he nearly broke it and knocked himself out.

His career would begin to wind down after all that. Ferrell suffered a shoulder injury the following season, and he fell to 11-12. He picked things up again in 1935 and 1936 by winning 25 and 20 games, respectively, but those were his last hurrah. He wouldn’t pitch well after that, and he was out of the game by age 33 with 193 wins. Even though he was a very good pitcher, he may have been known as much for his bat. He hit .280/.351/.446 (100 OPS+) for his career, and he set the single-season (9) and career (38) records for home runs by a pitcher.

Trivia Time
Wes Ferrell is related to what Hall of Famer, and what is their relationship?

Yesterday’s Answer –> Youngest to ever steal home.

I is for Me and Z is for Zenith

August 20, 2009
Didn’t know he had a stamp. Cool.

I is for Me,
Not a hard-hitting man,
But an outstanding all-time
Incurable fan.

Z is for Zenith
The summit of fame.
These men are up there.
These men are the game.

The above quote are a couple stanzas from the famous baseball poem “Lineup for Yesterday” written by Ogden Nash. It’s one of the, if not the most, famous baseball poems written. If you don’t know anything about it, Nash essentially goes through the alphabet naming the best players of baseball by using the letter to correspond with a name. For example, G is for Lou Gehrig. He does this for all the letters with some exceptions. When he arrives at the letter “x”, he fudges a little by using Jimmie Foxx (see the two “x”‘s at the end?). However, for 24 letters, he still finds a famous player to fill the space. There are 2 exceptions — I and Z.

Now, why did he do it? In regard to I, he utilizes himself (“I is for Me”), so he uses a person but not a ballplayer. For Z, he doesn’t use any person at all, and instead, he chooses to glorify the game. All that is perfectly good, and because it’s his poem, he can do whatever he wants with it. But I still have to ask the question — why?

Let’s start with I. In many paintings, painters implant their own self-portrait, and this could be a similar construction. Another reason is to make a universal statement — “I” doesn’t necessarily pertain to him but, instead, to all baseball fans reading the poem.

On to Z. At this point in history, baseball is truly the National Pastime, and this could simply be him taking the opportunity to glorify the game itself. It could also be just a nice conclusion to the poem. Having a “z” player end the poem is a little abrupt, but having a more general conclusion brings the poem to soft close.

But possibly the most obvious (yet also most shallow) is that he simply couldn’t think of any good ballplayers with names that started with “i” and “z”. The rest of the post (after the next few sentences) will talk about the best players Nash could have used in the poem. Remember, the poem was published in January of 1949, so we have to stick with players who were stars prior to 1949.

I is a bit unusual. The letter is found everywhere in the English language (it helps to be a vowel), but few names begin with it. Because he fudged a few others, he could have used Ted Williams. Williams was still playing, and Nash avoided using active players (Bobo Newsom foiled him by coming back in 1952 and 1953 after retiring in 1948). Regardless, he could find someone with an eye in the name, but doing that is doing a bit more fudging than the x’s in Foxx, considering the rarity of x, oddity of 2 x’s, and the popularity of Foxx. So were there good players with names that began with I.

– Out of the top 400 players from 1876-1948 in OPS+, none have an I to begin their either their first or last name. No Isaacs, Irvings, or Ivans. Sorry boys.

– Looked through the top 400 pitchers in ERA+, and you know what — nothing. Still nothing. Geez. I had Baseball-Reference, so I can only imagine how hard it was for Nash.

Z is just plain rare. In Scrabble, Z and Q are the letters with the most worth (Nash cheated a bit by mentioning Don Quixote to bring up Connie Mack, but again, he could have done something similar with I and Z) at 10 points a pop. So were there any players with a Z (and I’ll even try to pull a Foxx here)?

– We have a few winners here. Jake Stenzel comes in as a “Foxx” example. A member of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1890’s, Stenzel played 9 seasons, but 1894-1897 was his peak. Offense, however, exploded at this point and Stenzel was lost in the shuffle.

Zeke Bonura is another possibility, but he only played in 7 seasons in the mid-to-late 1930’s. He was a good hitter, but he was known for poor effort out in the field. The “Bonura Salute” is when a player just waves at a passing groundball. I don’t think we can use him even if his name starts with a z.

Luckily, we have Zack Wheat, a member of the Hall of Fame (by Veteran’s Committee). Playing from 1909-1927 (mainly as a Brooklyn Dodger, he was a lifetime .317/.367/.450 hitter (129 OPS+) and was a well-respected defender. He was originally voted into the Hall of Fame in 1927, but only 29 years had passed (a player needs 30 years of retirement to be elected by the Veteran’s Committee). Because the VC only met every two years, he had to wait until 1959 to be elected, this time unanimously.

– Dizzy Dean, Dazzy Vance, and Lefty Gomez are all out because they were already used in the poem, and there were no pitchers who had a name start with a Z. Dave Foutz, Joe Benz, and Fritz Ostermuelle were the “Foxx” examples, but none were particularly good. Foutz may have been the best with a lifetime 147-66 record with 41 of them coming in 1886. Benz was fairly good, but he only lasted 9 seasons. Ostermuelle lasted 15 seasons, but he bounced between being a starter and reliever.

In the end, we have no real suggestions for I, but it appears that Zack Wheat could have been a choice for Z. We may never know why Nash wrote those two stanzas the way he did. Maybe he wanted some metaphors, or maybe he just couldn’t think of anyone to put in the poem. Maybe it was just a combination of the two. I just thought it was something fun to ponder this afternoon.

This Day in Baseball History: August 20th, 1945

August 20, 2009
Can we have another World War so that we can start breaking these age records? Because it’s not gonna happen otherwise.

On August 20, 1945:

Tommy Brown hits his first major-league home run.

Born on December 6, 1927, Tommy Brown was a 16-year old who signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. In the minors for that season, he hit .297/.341/.462 and led the minors with 11 triples before the Dodgers decided to call him up on August 3rd. Oddly, Brown wanted to stay in the minors longer (really?) because he felt that he had more to learn, but with World War II taking players from rosters, the Dodgers didn’t have much of a choice. He hit very poorly for the rest of that season, but he was a 16-year old in a man’s league, though he wasn’t the youngest player in the league (Who was that, I wonder?).

The next season, Brown continued to see limited duty. Eddie Basinski held down the everyday job at short (Brown’s primary position), but because Basinski wasn’t very good (their averages and OPS+ are very similar for that season), Brown did play in 55 games at short. He continued to have little power, but the old batting average and on-base percentage went up quite a bit (though he walked fewer times in more plate appearances). On August 20, 1945, he hit his first major-league home run off of Preacher Roe, and at 17 years, 8 months, and 14 days, he was the youngest ever to hit a home run in the major leagues.

Ironically, Brown lost his 1946 season due to military service. The other players were coming back, and it was now Brown’s turn to leave. Brown returned to the Dodgers in 1947 and welcomed Jackie Robinson to the fold (he supposedly refused to sign a petition to prohibit Robinson from playing). Over the rest of his career, he bounced from position to position without ever really finding a home or significant playing time. After the 1953 season at the age of 25, he could no longer find a job, so he headed to the Pacific Coast League. Six seasons later, he retired to Nashville and worked in a glass plant.

Trivia Time
Brown is also known for being the youngest player to do what else — something we don’t see often anymore?

Monday’s Answer –> 11th

Sorry about the lack of stuff up (I feel like I’ve said that a lot lately). College drama has kept me fairly (or unfairly) occupied over the past few days, but we’ll have some stuff up for you now. I do promise this time.

This Day in Baseball History: August 17th, 1968

August 17, 2009
Raise your hands if you got screwed.

On April 17, 1968:

Jim McAndrew begins to question his team’s offense.

The 1967 New York Mets were horrible, losing over 100 games. The 1969 Mets won 100 games and went on to take the World Series in a dramatic turn of fortunes for the team. The 1968 Mets? Well, they were pretty bad as they lost 89 games. When a team loses that many games, rookies tend to get a chance here and there, and 24-year old Jim McAndrew was one of the beneficiaries.

McAndrew would go on to pitch for 7 seasons, but he only won 37 games. His ERA+ was an almost perfectly average 98. But his career began well enough from the perspective of his pitching. On July 21, 1968, McAndrew went 6 innings in his debut, giving up 1 run on 6 hits. During his second start, this time on August 4, McAndrew had a more difficult time as he only went 4.2 innings. Six days later, McAndrew went 7 innings while giving up 1 run on 6 hits and 5 walks. A week after, he went 7 more innings and gave up 6 more hits and 1 more run. Not absolutely spectacular, but it’s not bad at all. He went on to post a 2.28 ERA for the year (a rather good year for pitchers) in 12 games.

In all of that, you’d expect him to win a game or at least get a no-decision. Hell, you’d expect his team to at least score a run. However, neither of which happened. McAndrew lost his first 4 decisions 2-0, 2-0, 1-0, and 1-0 in what is unofficially the unluckiest run to begin a career. At 2.9 runs a game, the Mets were the second-worst offense in the NL, and they did absolutely nothing to help McAndrew start his career. In another trivia note, his first 3 starts were parts of double-headers.

Trivia Time
Drafted in the first ever draft, McAndrew was taken in what round?

Thursday’s Answer –> Columbia

Packing and Moving

August 13, 2009
It’s times like this that I thank the higher order for making me a boy.

Unfortunately, it’s that time of year again, and I must again make the journey back to Lexington. Anyway, I’m spending today packing and seeing family. I wouldn’t expect anything tomorrow or Saturday as I will be driving tomorrow, and then, I will be heading off to parties and subsequently recovering from them. Sunday looks to be a good day to get back in the swing of things, and look for stuff next week.

Also, if you are interested in getting into a Fantasy Football League with some other bloggers and myself that I’m getting going, let me know.

This Day in Baseball History: August 12th, 1921

August 12, 2009
Murry Dickson, ladies and gentlemen.

On August 12, 1921:

George Smith throws a shutout, beating the Braves 4-0.

George Smith was an average major-league pitcher that played mainly for the New York (Baseball) Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies. He pitched in parts of 8 seasons and had a career record of 41-81 with a 3.89 ERA (93 ERA+). However, Smith wasn’t a full-time starter, and out of his 229 career appearances, he only started 118 of them. But he made one count on August 12, 1921 against the Boston Braves. During his complete-game shutout, he gave up 12 hits. That’s pretty amazing if you think about it. That’s at least 1 runner an inning, and pitchers generally only strand around 75% of their runners. You figure he would have given up around 3-4 runs, but luck was on his side that night. Out of curiosity, I looked up some stuff on pitchers who have given up a lot of hits but gave up zero runs.

On July 15, 1964, Mudcat Grant went the distance, giving up zero runs on 13 hits and a walk. Surprisingly, that’s not the most runners allowed while still holding the other team scoreless, and that even counts only 9 inning games. Grant’s Twins went on to beat the Senators 6-0.

On September 14, 1983, Tommy John went 13 innings while giving up 13 hits but zero runs. He also failed to walk a batter, which is rather impressive. What sucks is that he didn’t receive a decision and his team lost.

On August 12, 1976, Catfish Hunter also went 13 innings, but he also didn’t factor into the decision. However, Hunter’s Yankees went on to win in 15 innings when the Yankees busted out for 5 runs against the California Angels. Hunter was very good, giving up 11 hits and 4 walks as well as a hit batsman. The 16 base runners ties for the most baserunners allowed (at least in the Retrosheet Era) without giving up a run.

On June 6, 1964, Jim Bouton, also with the Yankees, did almost exactly what Hunter did. He went 13 innings and gave up 15 baserunners (10 hits and 5 walks), and the Yankees waited to score until the 15th inning, when they beat (surprise!) the California Angels 2-0.

But the most impressive (or luckiest) outing belongs to Murry Dickson. He went 9 innings in a 4-0 win for his Phillies while giving up zero runs on 10 hits, 5 walks, an error on June 9, 1954.

Trivia Time
What Ivy League university did Smith attend?

Yesterday’s Answer –> The Toledo Mud Hens suffer this curse after Felton criticized the fans after a playoff game. Oddly, that was Felton’s last professional win.

This Day in Baseball History: August 11th, 1982

August 11, 2009
It would have been awesome if his number was 16 or if he lost 2 more games.

On August 11, 1982:

Terry Felton loses again.

Terry Felton had a rough major-league career. For bits of four seasons, Felton tried his hand as a major-league pitcher, but his 5.35 ERA and 77 ERA+ pretty much tell you most of the story. From 1979-1981, he made a grand total of 7 appearances (they weren’t very good), but he somehow managed to grab the swingman position on the California Angels staff for 1982. 48 appearances later, the Angels realized that Felton and his 4.99 ERA could go.

But Felton did manage to set a couple of major-league records, but because I love me some schadenfreude, they aren’t good records. The first is the most losses to start a career without also winning a game somewhere in there. Guy Morton set the original record back in the 1910’s with 13 losses, but Felton would end up losing 16 straight to begin his career. Oh, I forgot to mention — Felton never won a major-league game. His 16 losses were his only decisions. However, his 55 appearances to start a career without a win is not the worst in history. Vic Darensbourg went 123 appearances to start his career.

The other record he set was the most losses in a career without ever winning, at least for the time. Since then, this record has been taken away from him, and he now sits 6th on the all-time list. Juan Alvarez and Ed Olwine went 80 games in their careers, and they never won a game. Poor guys.

Trivia Time
There is, remarkably, a Curse of Terry Felton. What minor-league team “suffers” this curse?

Yesterday’s Answer –> Tom Seaver with 10. Apparently, just ask Ron, and he’ll tell you all about it.

This Day in Baseball History: August 10th, 1889

August 10, 2009
Yep, that’s a card in a cigarette carton. Step right on up kids.

On August 10, 1889:

Mickey Welch becomes the first pinch-hitter in Major League Baseball history.

Early on in baseball history, roster sizes were limited. They didn’t have massive farm systems, 40-man rosters, and 25-man rosters. They didn’t have too many more players than the 9 on the playing field, and players were expected to play the entire game and take their at-bats. Of course, the only exception could be made for injuries, and because of an injury to Hank O’Day on August 10, 1889, Mickey Welch would become the first recorded pinch-hitter in baseball history. Another interesting thing to note is that pinch-hitters were essentially illegal at the time, and injury was the only way to get a new player into the game. Otherwise, pinch-hitters had to wait until 1892 to be able to come in for purely strategic reasons. Jack Doyle is popularly credited with being the first pinch-hitter to do so in that mindset.

What makes all this more interesting is that Mickey Welch was a pitcher. Unless your name is Micah Owings or Carlos Zambrano, you’re probably not going to pinch-hit as a pitcher. The other unusual thing about this is that Welch wasn’t even a good hitter. In 2,286 plate appearances, Welch hit .224/.252/.297 with 93 doubles, 16 triples, and 12 home runs. I guess if you compared him to modern pitchers, he would look pretty good, but he still wasn’t the ideal choice for a pinch-hitter.

But Welch was the ideal of a good pitcher (well, maybe not ideal, but he was pretty good). Enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1973, Welch won 307 games in his career with a 2.71 ERA (114 ERA+). Out of the 549 games he started, he finished 525 of them and 41 of them without giving up a run. He won 30+ games 3 times and even won 44 in 1885. Also in 1885, he set a major-league record (which still stands today) by striking out the first 9 batters in a game.

Trivia Time
Who holds the major-league record for most consecutive strikeouts and with how many?

Thursday’s Answer –> .270, almost 70 points below his father

Sorry for the slowness around these parts. I’m trying to get ready for school and pack everything to move back on Friday. Once I get back to Lexington, time will be plentiful for putting up posts.

On August 6th, 1993 and 1999

August 6, 2009
Does not compute.

On August 6, 1993 and 1999:

Tony Gwynn had good days.

It’s been fun watching the Braves-Padres games over the past few days as Joe Simpson and Boog Sciambi continually asked themselves what Tony Gwynn says when his son comes up/gets a hit/gets an out/makes a play in the field and if he remains impartial or not. They’re not being critical, merely curious. It seems as though it would be fairly easy for media guys to get tapes from the broadcasts to fast forward to the right points in the game to find out exactly what he says. From the fact that they kept talking about it, I’m guessing they never did.

Anyway, Tony Gwynn, Sr. was a pretty good player. He had a .338/.388/.459 line for his career, good enough for a 132 OPS+ as a center fielder/right fielder. For his career, he had 3,141 hits, which seems a bit too small considering how well he hit and how little he walked, and he was widely considered one of the best hitters in the game. Some people swear he would have hit .400 in 1994 without the strike, and he had several other years with averages over .350. What always surprises me about him though is that he stole so many bases early in his career. I just have a much different image of him. Shows you what not being fully conscious until 1995 does to you.

Anyway, August 6th seems to have been one heckuva day for Gwynn. On August 6th, 1993, he had a really nice day, hitting well in two games. In the first, he went 3-for-3 with a couple intentional walks, and in the second, he went 2-for-5. Along the way, he picked up his 2,000th hit. Six years later, he went 4-for-5, and somewhere in there, he got his 3,000th hit.

Trivia Time
What is the younger Gwynn’s career batting average?

Yesterday’s Answer –> Delmon Young